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Dear Emuna: My Son, the Wild Animal
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: My Son, the Wild Animal

Will my teenaged son ever learn manners?


Dear Emuna,

My adolescent son has the table manners of a wild animal. He frequently uses his hands instead of utensils, chews with his mouth open and smears ketchup all over the tablecloth. I’m getting concerned. How do I teach him appropriate etiquette?

Mannerly Mom

Dear Mrs. Manners,

I assume that you are using a fork and knife and modeling ideal table manners. Therefore your son knows how he’s supposed to eat. He just can’t be bothered. He’s hungry (almost all the time!) and getting the food into his system as quickly as possible is his top priority.

I’m willing to bet that your son’s personal hygiene also needs some work. His toothbrush is probably used sporadically and while you may be able to get him off the computer long enough to take a shower, you can’t force the use of soap.

Have no fear. This is a common teenage phase which will soon be replaced by complete and utter obsession with his looks. All of the sudden he will shower non-stop and spend hours in front of the mirror, fixing his hair and admiring his physique. Then you will long for the days of smeared ketchup.

But do not despair. This too is a phase and he will reach adulthood with the skills to use his utensils properly, moderate and appropriate attention to hygiene and a (slightly) diminished focus on his appearance. It’s just waiting patiently until he gets there that’s difficult.

Daughter’s Unhappy Marriage

Dear Emuna,

My daughter is very frustrated in her marriage because she’s the primary bread winner for the family. Her husband just flits from job to job, unable to find his place. He is, however, terrific with the kids and frequently watches them while she works. But I see her frustration growing. It’s painful to me to observe this from the sidelines. I like her husband and would like their marriage to succeed. What do you suggest I do?

Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom,

What do you imagine you could do? This is completely out of your control. This is your daughter’s choice and hers alone. Your job is to be supportive of her, whatever path she takes.

While you can certainly encourage her to be less critical of her husband and to focus on his positive qualities, you can’t really enter into her situation. You don’t know their innermost struggles, the intimate details of their marriage.

Hopefully you have already taught your daughter the value and importance of commitment. Hopefully she knows that professional help can be a legitimate and sometimes necessary option. Hopefully she recognizes, based on her own upbringing, that money isn’t everything, that actually your yearly income is determined by the Almighty. Hopefully she understands that she can help her husband best by being supportive instead of critical.

But as far as doing something? Your options are pretty limited. The best (and most effective) thing you can do is pray.

Let Go of the Dream

Dear Emuna,

My oldest two daughters are married with families of their own. Unfortunately my girls don’t get along with each other. At every family gather they fight like cats and dogs, ruining everyone’s good time and leaving my husband and me miserable. We know they need to stop but we don’t know how to make them. What do you suggest?

Dueling Daughters

Dear Mom of Dueling Daughters,

Like I told the previous letter writer, it is no longer your job, nor is it within your ability to stop them. The best advice is sometimes not philosophical or spiritual but practical: Don’t invite them over at the same time.

I know that spoils your fantasy. I know it’s your dream to have your whole family together. But sometimes we need to grow up and adopt a more realistic perspective and strategy.

Since you can’t force your children to get along, let alone be close, and since their constant quarreling spoils it for everyone else, you need to find a new plan.

Alternate Sundays or Shabbats or holidays or whatever your schedule of family gatherings is. Not only will you remove the tension from the environment but you may discover that once you let go of the dream, of the unrealistic expectations, you will find a new and different pleasure in being able to spend more quality time with each of your daughters and their families.

No one’s life is a Norman Rockwell painting or a Hallmark card – choose your fantasy.

Making peace with your reality and making the best of your situation are the signs of a mature adult and the key to more pleasant experiences in the future.

January 5, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 10

(8) Keren, December 3, 2013 11:08 PM

Take him back to toddlerhood

Without humiliating your son, you should do some things that will make your life easier, while sending him a subtle message. First, get a large plastic placemat & place it under his plate. If he asks, you can tell him you don't want the tablecloth stained. Next, give him his food cut up in small bites. Again, when he asks, tell him you would rather he eat neatly, but unil he does you need to control the mess. Third, if he spills or smears, MAKE HIM CLEAN IT UP!! Give him a dishcloth, a towel, whatever it takes!! And DON'T LET HIM OFF THE HOOK!! If he smears his shirt or pants, take him to his room, right then, even in the middle of the meal & have him change into clean clothes. Calmly show him that eating neatly is important & you will work with him until his table manners improve!

(7) Keren, December 3, 2013 10:56 PM

Invite them one at a time & TELL them why!

Tell your daughters you are inviting them on alternating times because of their inability to get along. Invite #1 to the first days of Yom TOV & #2 to last days. If #1 wants to come for Shabbos & it's ot er turn, then tell her calmly. If you stay calm, but assertive, your daughters may ask for a chance to come on the same day. Tell them, "If you & your sister both think you can behave pleasantly, then let's give it a try. But at the first flare up we will go back to separate visits. We can try it again in, say, six months." then STICK TO IT!! Stay very pleasant & calm, but let your daughters know that THEIR behavior has left you no choice, & it is up to THEM to either change how they interact, or get used to being on separate schedules. I'm thinking that within a year, they will grow up & learn to play nicely together - something they evidently forgot to learn back in kindergarten!! Good luck!

(6) Miriam, January 14, 2013 5:53 PM

Dear Concerned Mom

You can help your daughter out by praising her husband to her, babysitting while they get out together (for a few hours or a day or two) and by telling her how very lucky and blessed she is to have such a wonderful, wonderful man with whom to share her life. Bottom line, we're all human, we all have pros and cons, and the way to keep a marriage happy is to focus on the pros! Good luck!

(5) Wearsie Jackson, January 12, 2013 1:28 PM

Mom of Dueling Daughters - Step up and Parent!

I completely disagree with the advice to "Mom of Dueling Daughters" when Emuna writes that " is no longer your job, nor is it within your ability to stop them" It IS a parent's role to insist upon mutual respect and order. While no parent can control the children's feelings toward each other (nor should they try), a good parent must MANDATE appropriate behaviour in her own household. We wouldn't tolerate any guests being disrespectful to one another in our homes and disrespect coming from our children should be no exception. I don't necessarily always get along with my siblings terribly well either, but my parents would NEVER tolerate ANY fighting nor disrespect to each other in their home nor their presence. As parents though, we can't suddenly throw our hands up and abdicate our responsibility to command this mutual respect and appropriate behaviour in our presence!

(4) Anonymous, January 8, 2013 5:58 PM

To the mother of the dueling daughters-Mrs. Braverman has provided some excellent advice. Nonetheless, I'm sorry about your situation.

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